Composer A.R. Rahman Focuses on Projects Closer to Home in India

AR Rahman
Courtesy of AR Rahman

Prolific Indian composer A.R. Rahman has decided to slow down in order to get more done.

The composer, who won an Oscar for “Slumdog Millionaire” and was nominated for “127 Hours,” has decided to cut down his Hollywood assignments. His hitherto peripatetic life — he finished a summer concert series in the U.S. and just played a one-off show at London’s O2 Arena — will now be largely confined to Chennai, India, where he will spend more time with his young family and his passion project, the KM Music Conservatory.

Launched in 2008 under the aegis of the A.R. Rahman Foundation, the conservatory offers diplomas in collaboration with the U.K.’s Middlesex U. that combines the Hindustani and Western classical traditions, as well as a range of part-time courses including instrumental and vocal training, audio engineering and electronic music production.

Considered India’s preeminent composer, the 48-year-old Rahman has scored some 150 films in the Tamil, Hindi, Telugu and Malayalam languages, and has sold more than 200 million albums. He also has scored Mandarin-lingo films.

He does, however, have two non-Indian films on tap: Majid Majidi’s “Muhammad,” a biopic of the prophet; and Jeff and Michael Zimbalist’s “Pele,” about the legendary Brazilian soccer player.

Rahman says he has been a longstanding admirer of Iranian cinema, and in particular the work of Majidi in films like “Children of Heaven” and “The Color of Paradise,” but his busy schedule did not allow him to work with the director until now. The subject matter of the film is close to Rahman’s heart; he converted to Islam more than two decades ago. Describing the score of “Muhammad,” he says: “It is very calm; it gives you a sense of peace.”

The tempo is very different for “Pele.” “I have used Brazilian rhythms and instruments to convey the mood and the energy in the film,” he says. Popular Brazilian singer Ana Beatriz will be featured on the soundtrack.

In India, Rahman has teamed again with filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker, with whom he has worked previously on the Oscar-nominated “Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India” and “Mohenjo Daro,” a historical adventure starring Bollywood heartthrob Hrithik Roshan. He is also collaborating again with Imtiaz Ali for “Tamasha,” starring Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone.

But he now can afford to pay more attention to other passions. In 2013, the Conservatory and the Foundation formed the Sunshine Orchestra, an initiative to give music training to young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. “I realize that music is one thing that can change lives,” he says. “This attempt has already changed mine.”

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